Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
Sid Meier is famous for his line that games are “a series of interesting decisions.” Which makes it interesting that Sid Meier’s Civilization V is a game about telling people to stand still over and over again.
To be clear, I like Civilization. My interest in the series peaked with IV, but Civilization V still occupied plenty of hours of my time. There is something very soothing about its take on global expansion, in which each step of progress, whether it be through time or across the map, feels inevitable.
But there are times when it seems designed to soothe me into the coma. One of the reasons for that is a little bit of clever UI design: the big ‘next decision’ that sits in the bottom right of the screen, taking you to whatever else needs doing before you can end your turn. It’s clever because it filters all the game’s systems into a single interface element and lets the player know at every opportunity what they need to be paying attention to.
But it also has the effect, I think, of making even the game’s most interesting decisions feel rote. Another item on a shopping list of conquest: scout there, build here, remain there, declare war here, and so on. It lays bare the systems of the game as just that – systems – without the grandeur or sense of storytelling that should make a game like Civ great.